Founder & CEO of Cubicle Ninjas. Repeat start-up adventurer. Draws comics. Loves loving things.
I'll be blunt: you can't.
I've ran design agencies for years and in the beginning I was obsessed with this question, thinking our dashing service could win them over. "If only we could get in the door our problems would be solved!" I'd proclaim to no one in particular.
But over time with hundreds of clients beat the truth into me.
There are three factors in every purchase: speed, cost, and quality. Most buying decisions are based on emphasizing two. Fast food is speed and low cost, missing quality. A fancy steak house is low speed, high quality and cost. Everything is a compromise.
If someone doesn't *value* quality they won't pay for it. If someone doesn't have the *budget* to afford quality they won't pay for it.
So, the bad news: elance is filled with the above.
This is why you're not winning there. Their qualifiers are misaligned. That is not knocking elance, it is just a reality. They don't want a conversation they want a low cost solution. It is insanely unlikely that you will walk away with longterm clients who value what you do and are willing to pay well for it.
But there is a silver lining...
This means you can focus on customers who you can win with. Those that value quality. Those that believe in responding when you put some effort in. Those probably not on elance.
Love to help on the agency end if I can at all in the future too about how to find clients. Feel free to reach out to me through Clarity and you'll be helping a good charity at the same time.
The best way to test a person's talent is to put them to work in the reality of your business.
If these folks are all onboard for being partners, promise to give them a cut of all deals they bring in. Structure the plan so that the contract lasts three months. Then, let them prove themselves and show (not just say) they really mean it. Make no equity promises until you can validate their claims.
What if someone balks at the offer? I'd imagine these folks will have main jobs during the testing phase. If they scoff or refuse, then you've won immediately. If they aren't willing to hustle a bit extra for a few months how in the world could they do this for many years ahead within a successful partnership?
Why three months? People can fake their behavior for quite a bit of time. At two months people can't help but being themselves. You'll get a taste for how they work, they're ability to close, and their personality. Personality is the biggest factor, as they may do a great job bringing in business, but be simply unbearable to work alongside.
A note of caution around the Head of Marketing SME: this person sounds like a problem. Are they acting immorally towards their current employer? Check, stealing business. Are they sure they can do it on their own, but for some odd reason never have? Check. Are they requesting for more stake than they deserve? Check. These alone are reasons to run. Immoral, unproven, and greedy at the start.
To me, you sound like you need to hire a commission based sales person. Give them a stake of each deal. Don't give up equity for something like this. This company is your baby and equity is a last resort.